On the International Mother Language Day on February 21, I came across an ‘interesting’ commentary, dated 19 July 2010, by one of the US funded medium that disseminates information and news on Iran to Iranians in several languages.
The English language website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as best known by its acronym (RFE/RL), posted a commentary by one of its associate directors on the issue of mother language in Iran, titled “Iran’s Ethnic Azaris And The Language Question”.
Abbas Djavadi the author, apparently himself a speaker of Turkish origin starts off his piece by describing the agony facing ethnic Turks in Azarbijan unable to use their mother language in schools in Iran; however surprisingly, he soon considers the issue irrelevant as in his own words, “it appears the majority of them don’t care much about this inequality.”
To sell his argument that Turks in Iran and other non-Persian speakers in Iran are indifferent to this injustice and inequality, he points to a self-produced survey where apparently 80 individuals, mostly from the Turkish areas of Iran, were interviewed and he found only five – just over 5 percent – “very interested in seeing education in Azeri Turkish in Iranian Azeri schools.”
According to his ‘study’ apparently Azarbijani Turks in Iran even reject the idea of having Turkish courses alongside Persian fearing “it would weaken their acquisition of Persian.” This is of course an arguments widely presented by ultra-nationalist Persians who claim that steps in accommodating the rights of nation groups in Iran will threaten the ‘unity’ of Iran; a country based on Persian identity, language, culture and history and non-Persians who make up more than half of the population in Iran feel unfit to this interpretation of Iran, thus feeling foreigners within the geographical boundaries of Iran.
Setting aside many factual flaws with this commentary in particular as in regards to the estimated number of Turkish speakers and their origin in Iran, (he puts their population in Iran around 10 million while many credible sources put their number as high as 18 million. He also claims that Turks have been in Iran for thousands of years, while historical accounts refer to the Turkification of the region where Turks mostly live only to the mid eleventh century after the Seljuq dynasty overthrew Arab rule and established an empire that encompassed most of Southwest Asia.) He has presented many self-proclaimed fictions as facts in regards to Azrbijani Turks’ lack of sense of nationhood and their desire to speak their language and practice their traditions.
What prompted me to revisit this article was a recent video that went viral; in the midst of an Asian Champions League game in Tabriz where the host team Traktorsazi comes from, Turks loudly chanted across the stadium “Turkish language in schools, is a must for everyone” (video below) which clearly annuls the claim in the article that Turkish speakers in Iran do not favour education in mother tongue. Thus, either this ‘study’ never took place,(I leave that to the editors of REF/RL) or the people he has apparently interviewed were not Turkish or the enthusiastic crowd in this video are not Azarbijani Turks from Iran whom he had interviewed.
The crowd in this game went even beyond their basic demand of right in mother language and showcased a visible banner in English that read “South Azarbijan isn’t Iran” (picture below) proving not only the rights movement in Azarbijan is quite strong but also neglecting these demands will further radicalize the population as illustrated in that banner in a such a large crowd.
Going back to the commentary, I should also add that it would not matter much if Mr. Djavadi had written this piece on his blog or state-owned media in Iran; however when such fictional and flawed commentaries are sold to readers as facts on publicly funded medium such as RFE/RL or its Persian sister media Radio Farda, it shows lack of sensitivity and professionalism in those media, and as well as the length that ultra-nationalists are willing to go to deny oppressed and brutalized nationalities of Iran their just rights including the basic right to be taught in one’s mother language.
I had recently wrote to REF/RL and Radio Farda to complain on a news report on Iranian Arabs. The report in Persian referred to Arabs in Iran as Arab-speakers, and I complained in my letter to REF/RL on changing the content of news and reports in regards to nationalities of Iran according to nationalist-Persian agenda. There I had appealed to the editors to look seriously into these intentional errors to make Radio Farda and its staff function in a professional and unbiased manner and report events and happenings as they happen, and refer to the people as they are, not as they want them to be or to be referred to.
In a reply, Deputy Director of Communications of REF/RL, Martins Zvaners assured me that “Radio Farda is proud of its comprehensive reporting on the discrimination faced by ethnic, religious, linguistic and other minority populations in Iran, including that faced by the Arab population of Khuzestan province where Radio Farda has many listeners. Rest assured that Radio Farda will continue to offer impartial and professional coverage of the challenges faced by ethnic Arabs, and other minorities, living in Iran.” Let’s hope for the day where these mistakes are not repeated and REF/RL and its subsidiaries honour their promise and preserve its professionalism and credibility.
In short, I strongly believe that wilful and peaceful co-existence is possible in Iran among various nationalities within a decentralized, plural and federal Iran; however, attempts – especially on part of the dominant Persians in a position of power and influence – to downsize the extent of nationalities’ exclusion and oppression, and most importantly to depict such an outlook (i.e. federal, plural and diverse Iran) as a threat to Iran’s ‘territorial integrity’ will further radicalize the rights movement among nationalities to look for solutions to solve their problems outside the borders of Iran.